The Constitution was made to guard the people against the dangers of good intentions." --American Statesman Daniel Webster (1782-1852)

Wednesday, August 5, 2020

When NASA Flew the TU-144

I remember the TU-144 especially when I was a kid, the nickname was "Concordski". The Soviets were in such a rush to get their plane in front of the Concorde for bragging rights, they rushed development and got the plane out a few months earlier at the cost of systems and safety but to the Soviets such things didn't matter as long they could brag that they beat the west.  It was the nature of the propaganda wars of the 60's and 70's as they tried to sway 3rd party proxy supporters for their cause. The TU-144 was beset with a myriad of system problem and frame issues and Aeroflot, the National airline didn't want the plane on their roster and the Soviet Military really didn't want the plane at all because of its reliability issues.  The Soviets had first rate designers and scientist that could have fixed the planes problems but the political system wouldn't allow them to fix it in the name of national pride.  It culminated in the Paris Air Show Crash where several theories abound but it was pretty much the death knell for the plane as far as commercial travel goes.  the plane only flew 55 commercial flights mostly in the Soviet Union, the Politboro was nervous about the loss of life the plane might have on the prestige of the Soviet Union and they intentionally limited the flights and had a party member sigh off on all flights to minimize exposure. 
TU-144 at the SinSheim Museum,in Germany  I went there in 1988 and that museum even back then was really good and they have expanded their collection of stuff.  It is first rate and a definite stop on my bucketlist when I go back there again.  They have a Concorde parked out there also.

The Tupolev Tu-144 was a supersonic airliner that was first introduced by the Soviet Union in December 1968. However, in the 1990s, NASA worked with the plane’s manufacturers to develop a new variant of the jet – the Tu-144LL.
Tu-144 Plane
The Tupolev Tu-144LL taking off from the Zhukovsky Air Development Center near Moscow, Russia, 1998. Photo: NASA
It might be surprising to hear that a United States government agency worked on a Soviet-rooted aircraft. However, the end of the Cold War gave rise to an unprecedented opportunity for the two former long-term rivals to align in a joint aeronautical flight research program.
In 1993, US Vice President Gore and Russian Prime Minister Chernomyrdin chaired the United States-Russian Joint Commission on Economic and Technological Cooperation
According to NASA, at the time, the agency and commercial aviation industries across the US were focused on a High-Speed Research (HSR) program to further develop Supersonic Transport (SST) aircraft technologies. The plan was to place the US in a leading position to develop a next-generation supersonic plane
Tu-144 Jet
The Tu-144 was underwent conversion to a flying laboratory with four Kuznetsov NK-321 afterburning turbofan engines. Photo: NASA
Since 1990, the Tupolev Aircraft Design Bureau was suggesting that a Tu-144 could be used as a flying testbed in support of the HSR initiative. Subsequently, a team of senior NASA and aviation specialists across the country developed a series of flight experiments. Additionally, there we collaboration with a top team from Tupolev to understand the necessary modifications to perform those experiments.
Altogether, these tasks would inspire the Tu-144LL Supersonic Flying Laboratory. This project played an important part in the joint research program.

Over the span of two years, there were 27 research flights. There were 6,000 miles between the US and the plane’s base, so there were some challenges. However, workers overcame these struggles, and US pilots made three evaluation flights in September 1998.
The Tu-144LL’s first flight took place on  November 29th, 1996. Photo: NAS
The project was a great achievement overall. Nine experiments, including seven in the air and two on the ground, gathered crucial flight data. This information ramped up the US and Russian supersonic flight databases.
“Propulsion, aerodynamic, structural heating, structural acoustics, ground effects, and handling qualities data from the experiments were eagerly assimilated into the program’s information database,” NASA said on its website.

“In March 1998 the Joint Commission recognized the program as “A model for U.S. and Russian government-business partnerships in the development of advanced technologies.”
A year later, the HSR program underwent cancellation. 1999 was also the year that the TU-144 once again saw retirement. The conclusion was that it would not be economically viable to introduce a new SST aircraft. Two decades later, there is still a buzz about a new supersonic generation. We will have to wait and see how the industry pans out over the next few years.
Some more background,
In the early 1990s, a wealthy businesswoman, Judith DePaul, and her company IBP Aerospace negotiated an agreement with Tupolev, NASA, Rockwell and later Boeing. They offered a Tu-144 as a testbed for its High Speed Commercial Research program, intended to design a second-generation supersonic jetliner called the High Speed Civil Transport. In 1995, Tu-144D No. 77114 (with only 82.5 hours of flight time) was taken out of storage and after extensive modification at a cost of US$350 million, designated the Tu-144LL (where LL is a Russian abbreviation for Flying Laboratory, Russian: Letayushchaya Laboratoriya, Летающая Лаборатория). The aircraft made 27 flights in Russia during 1996 and 1997. Though regarded as a technical success, the project was cancelled for lack of funding in 1999.
This aircraft was reportedly sold in June 2001 for $11M via an on-line auction, but the aircraft sale did not proceed. Tejavia Systems, the company handling the transaction, reported in September 2003 that the deal was not signed as the replacement Kuznetsov NK-321 engines from a Tupolev Tu-160 bomber were military hardware and the Russian government would not allow them to be exported.
In 2003, after the retirement of Concorde, there was renewed interest from several wealthy individuals who wanted to use the Tu-144LL for a transatlantic record attempt, despite the high cost of a flight readiness overhaul even if military authorities would authorize the use of NK-321 engines outside Russian Federation airspace.
The last two aircraft remain in Gromov Flight Research Institute in Zhukovsky, Nos. 77114 (the Tu-144LL) and 77115. In March 2006, it was reported that both aircraft would be preserved with one erected on a pedestal near Zhukovsky City Council or above the Gromov Flight Research Institute entrance from Tupolev avenue.

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